Middle Age and New Beginnings

27/06/2013 12:07 | Updated 27 August 2013
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Eighty years ago, the American psychologist Walter Pitkin was credited with coining a phrase which summarised the reinvigorated zest for life in what was then perceived to be middle age. "Life begins at 40" and was, he wrote in a self-help book of the same title, "the revolutionary outcome of our new era".

Pitkin's adage has seemed to shape people's self-regard during the four score years since, causing them almost to draw comfort from the ticking onwards of our body clocks.

However, as true as it might have been in 1932, Pitkin's observations now look a little dog-eared and dated. The speed with which the concepts of well-being, convenience and age have altered has been staggering.

In the last 30 years in particular, increasing ease of travel has broadened our horizons just as technology has seemed to bring the entire globe into devices no larger than the palms of our hands.

The impact has been staggering, not least on the family. The number of couples living together without marrying has doubled since 1996 while the latest figures suggest that 42 per cent of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce.

Even so, that doesn't mean to say that those who aspire to wedded bliss are on the retreat. On the contrary, in fact, according to data just released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It has revealed that there were 247,890 marriages in England and Wales during 2011, a rise of 1.7 per cent.

Although well below the 351,973 recorded 30 years before, it marks another annual signal that there are still a great many people for whom marriage represents something of a 'gold standard' in relationship terms.

As is often the case, the most significant elements only really emerge when one digs into the detailed numbers which have been released.

It transpires that the middle-aged - women between 55 and 59 and men over 60 - show the greatest rate of increase of marriage for any demographic group.

In a way, we should not be surprised at the level of relationship tectonics experienced by people over the age of 50. Late last year, the ONS also disclosed that the number of divorces among those aged 60-plus had doubled in the space of a decade.

However, taken together, the figures underline the growing sense of dynamism in the domestic circumstances of the middle-aged which almost gives the lie to Mr Pitkin's wisdom.

As I and my colleagues in Pannone's Family department are all too well aware from dealings with clients, life now, it appears, is not necessarily over just because you reach the age of 55.

It's impossible to make absolute conclusions from individual cases but it would seem that people of middle-age now find it easier to establish new relationships than their parents or grandparents might have done.

That, in turn, could be partially down to the ability of technology - and things such as online dating which it facilitates - to bring people together.

No longer does middle-age have to be a reason for cardigans, slippers and settling into the autumn of one's years. Now, it brings a second burst of life, albeit with an eye on the future.

One other feature of the increase in marriage among the over-50s is, I believe, consideration for loved ones. As they get older, couples who might well have been living together are obliged to contemplate how best to protect the future financial well-being of their families.

There are great disparities between the rights of cohabitees and spouses should their partners die, something which both the Law Commission and Government are currently trying to address.

Given those present inequalities, many couples seem to decide that marriage simply offers greater security than cohabitation.

The latest tranche of data from the ONS may indicate that the awareness of such issues is starting to have an impact on a domestic rather than just a parliamentary basis.

Whilst such developments might seem to finally render one of Walter Pitkin's works redundant, they may breathe life into another. As well as contemplating priorities and possibilities in life, he penned a book entitled 'The Art and Business of Story Writing'.

Both he and the middle-aged couples who are choosing to wed in increasing numbers will doubtless have understood the value of a happy ending.


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